This is a post that I’ve been sitting on for a while. In it I discuss some of the theological questions I have been having since losing my baby girls, specifically, God’s role in pain and suffering. (Although to be honest, this is an issue that I have been wrestling with for several years.) Just so we are clear, I am not proposing to have any answers to anything; I am merely sharing where I am in my journey and some of my reflections on this subject. If you disagree with the content or find it offensive, please be kind. – J.
I think back to February when I was still pregnant and can’t believe that it’s already June. It wasn’t that long ago that my husband and I went baby shopping for the first time with my sister (on Valentine’s Day of all days!) and we walked around Lussobaby in North Vancouver absolutely stunned and overwhelmed at all of the baby gear and items that we needed to buy. I remember feeling like we needed to buy almost everything in that store! Although I had fears of losing my babies early in my pregnancy like any other pregnant woman out there, never in my wildest imagination did I think that I would actually lose them. Walking around Lussobaby and feeling anxiety over our ability to financially provide for two kids was evidence of how much I thought our babies would be just fine.Four months later and I think I’m still in shock over the fact that our reality doesn’t include me being 35 weeks pregnant, a finished nursery, a growing collection of baby clothes and toys, or the anticipation of going into labour at any moment. Instead, our reality looks very much like a husband and wife fighting very hard to live each day without completely falling apart. It includes the painful memory of losing our babies at 21 weeks and four days and seeing their tiny bodies wrapped up in death. It includes a memorial service instead of a baby shower. It includes our babies’ ashes in an urn instead of their hearts beating strong in my belly. It includes many flowers and messages sent as condolences instead of congratulations. It includes lost hopes and dreams, a profound sadness, crushing disappointment, and fears of what the future holds. We now live in the reality of Instead, not What Was Supposed to Be.
And yet there are people out there who would have me think and believe that this is exactly the way things were/are supposed to be. That this is the trajectory that God had envisioned and planned for my life. That mine and my husband’s pain and suffering, as well as the pain and suffering of our families over the loss of our babies, was ordained or allowed by God and is all part of His transcendent sovereign will for our lives. That, in our case, God gave and took away in order to achieve some greater good. That God specifically allowed the devil to make this season of our lives his personal playground in order to ‘strengthen’ us or to prove a point like He did with Job (They won’t reject me, Satan, even if I let you raze them!), while God holds the devil morally responsible for the pain and havoc he has wrought and, simultaneously, expects us to praise and glorify His name because He is God and He can humble us into submission anyway He wants to, even if it means the death of our sweet little babies. That God’s sovereignty means that He is in control of and controls all things, including the godawful tragedies that befall us.
There was a time when I swallowed this theology/theodicy without reservation. There’s a strange comfort in believing that God’s power means that He meticulously oversees and directs all of the little mundane details of our lives (including our most infinitesimal needs like finding a parking spot in the middle of downtown Vancouver), the significant events (such as who we choose to marry and what career we end up pursuing), and even our most painful experiences (like a terminal diagnosis or divorce). Many proponents of this view would suggest that God’s power and sovereignty are precisely what make Him trustworthy. (A God whose power is limited in any way, even if self-imposed, doesn’t really have power. How can you possibly trust a God who doesn’t have it in spades?) But does God using His power and sovereignty in this way look at all like Christ, or does it look more like the kind of Messiah that the Jews expected to come in Jesus’ day? Are we still making the same mistake more than 2000 years later by clinging on to a picture of God that, maybe, just maybe, doesn’t look like Him at all?
I look back at this picture of me and my mom crying over my babies after she placed them in my arms and can’t help but flinch because the idea that God could be behind something so un-Christlike like the death of little babies (even if He is indirectly involved because He specifically allowed it) makes Him unrecognizable to me. I remember our pastor Manuel Silva lying in palliative care a few years ago as cancer ravaged and destroyed his body and I can’t help but turn my face away at the suggestion that all of that man’s anguish and his family’s suffering was a part of God’s plan. I think of men, women, and children afflicted with sickness, disability, chronic disease, and terminal illness and imagine that most people hurting from such “natural” afflictions would be offended at the suggestion that God has some higher reason for allowing them to live less than abundant lives, while letting others go about their business without knowing the same magnitude of pain. I read about horrific accidents, ruinous wars, terrorism, senseless murders, and death that are prolific in the news and see nothing but the work of an enemy of Christ, not the will of God meticulously unfolding.
Yes, life is hard and terribly unfair – there is no question about it. And, yes, God never promised that life this side of heaven would ever be easy. Do people have the ability to inject meaning into painful and sorrowful situations? Absolutely. But can you honestly tell me that the same God whose entire being was revealed in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3) and whose power was displayed through bloody, self-emptying sacrifice on a Roman cross (1 Corinthians 1:18) is also the one who willed the death of my babies for my own apparent good and for His own personal glory? If it is true that God’s plans can never be thwarted and that everything that is coming to pass in my life is a part of His will, then how does ordaining or allowing the death of my two little girls prosper me and not harm me (Jeremiah 29:11)? And if God knew that my babies would be taken from me, why bother blessing me with a pregnancy in the first place? Why not revise His will for me as soon as He knew that this would happen? According to the traditional view, God saw in eternity past that this tragedy would take place and did nothing to stop it in order to achieve some higher purpose as a part of His sovereign will for my life. If that is the case, I understand Ivan’s feelings in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov when he cries, “Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me, please? … And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.” Like Ivan, I find the providential mathematics unreasonable. It’s like adding up a string of negative integers and expecting the result to be a positive number. (-1 + -1 will always be -2.)
A New Look at God
Sometimes, the cost of things falling apart is an illogical worldview.
If there is anything a sufferer needs, it is not an explanation, but a fresh, new look at God.
– Don Baker, Pain’s Hidden Purpose
Some may say that I shouldn’t be asking such questions because it’s a pointless endeavor and it will do nothing for me but needlessly shake my faith or, worse, cause me to abandon my faith altogether. The cookie-cutter Christian answer to questions in the face of suffering seems to be, Everything happens for a reason; just trust God, as if trusting God means that I should stoically face my problems and dismiss the myriad of questions swirling around in my mind because I forfeited my right to ask the moment I decided to follow Him. There are many people, including friends of ours, who have turned away from Christianity precisely because pain devastated their lives and they were given nothing more than platitudes and discouraged from riding the waves of doubt with God. If, as Christians, we believe that God gave us free will because He did not want robots for people, then why do we feel that we are betraying Him by asking questions? Would we be any better than robots if we just put our trust in Him because we’re supposed to? What makes us nervous to wrestle with God and to ask?
Asking is not doubting. It is trusting.
… it takes more faith to ask than it takes to fear the asking. It takes faith to be ready for whatever answer comes, and faith to persevere with more questions if the answer is not understood.
– Athol Dickson, The Gospel According to Moses
I think of Abraham having the audacity to ask God to spare the lives of innocent people living in Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:25), Moses questioning the wisdom of God’s plan to free the Israelites from slavery (Exodus 3), and Habbakuk directly asking God why He tolerates evil and remains silent when bad people do bad things to good people (Habbakuk 1:13), and I feel a sense of solidarity with these patriarchs and prophets. They, along with others in the Bible, weren’t afraid to ask God tough and troubling questions. Could it be because they knew that in addition to God being the only one with the answers, they understood Him to be more open and approachable than we think?